“Free, A Novella Part VI”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part VI

Pouring herself a glass of wine, Lennie smiled as she heard Duncan see the last of his guests out. His sixteenth birthday party was a huge success! Duncan and Myron had hosted his friends in the family room with the right foods and music, making for the right ‘cool’ factor. Lennie had set up the breakfast nook and dining room for chauffeuring parents, as well as the den for younger siblings. Everyone was happy.

Everyone was also incredibly well-behaved. Lennie and a couple of patrolling dads didn’t have to issue any warnings about dance floor antics or couples sneaking off. Though they tried to act like grownups, Lennie felt most of the teens were secretly glad their parents were so close by.

Taking a seat on the reclining leather sofa, Lennie lazily leaned back enjoying the quiet. Looking around the room, she was also pleased and impressed at how parents had organized everyone into cleaning crews. Everything was back in its place, and even all the trash was taken out.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Hearing Duncan’s raised voice, Lennie sat up. She hoped no one was having car trouble.

“I don’t owe you a damn thing!”

On her feet immediately, Lennie sat her wineglass on the bar as she moved towards the front door. Before she could even leave the family room, Duncan and Myron were standing in front of her…faces hard and anger flaring in their eyes.

“Duncan Mitchell Porter! Did I hear you swear? You just turned-” Lennie stopped abruptly when she noticed someone approaching behind the boys. Her facial features immediately mimicked theirs.

“Ranard. What are you doing here?”

With far too much swagger, Ranard stepped around his sons to stand in front of Lennie.

“Well, damn. No man should be greeted this way in his own home. My sons don’t want to allow me in, and my wife questions my presence.” He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, but Lennie took a step back. Ranard smirked.

“Again, I ask…what are you doing here, Ranard?” The iciness of her tone caused the smirk on his face to fade.

“I couldn’t miss our eldest son’s sixteenth birthday, Lennie. Even though I wasn’t invited to the party, I at least thought I’d be welcomed.”

“You missed the last seven birthdays, Ranard, and two or three before that. What’s different now? And how did you know we had a party?”

Ranard tried to feign sorrow…and fell short. “I’ve been sitting outside for quite a while. I pulled up and saw all the cars and knew you were celebrating in here. Since I wasn’t told about it beforehand, I decided to wait until the crowd thinned.”

“More like you didn’t want to embarrass yourself in front of a group of people who know what kind of a father you’re not.” There was no mistaking the venom in Duncan’s voice.

“Boy, is that any way to speak to your father? I may not be around, but look at the home I’ve provided for you…a home that still bears my name, by the way. I don’t need an invitation. I can come and go as I please.”

Lennie turned away from Duncan to fully face Ranard. “Since when? We’re legally separated, and this is not your address of record. So, no matter how the mortgage currently reads, you cannot come and go here as you please. I’ll ask one more time. What are you doing here?”

Giving up all pretense, Ranard threw up his hands. “Fine. Some people just won’t allow you to be nice. I want to sell the house. Even without an appraisal, the mortgage company assures me I could more than make back my investment.”

Lennie and the boys all stood there…mouths agape…not believing their ears. Duncan was the first to speak.

“You want to sell our home? After seven years, you show up to tell us you’re selling our home?”

Lenore Porter stood by silently…frozen in a rage she had never known. The man standing across the room was a stranger to her. Any love she may have still had for Ranard had faded years ago. But, now…in this very moment, she understood what it meant to hate someone. This man casually told his children he wanted to sell their home. He was more concerned with investments than their welfare. Lennie had had enough. She was done. Approaching Ranard slowly, she enunciated each word.

“This house…our home, is not for sale, Ranard. There are two names on the mortgage and without my consent, the mortgage company shouldn’t be quoting deals to you. They haven’t seen you or received a cent from you in seven years. If you try to push through any kind of sale, I’ll sue you and them! Do you understand? Do you hear what I’m saying, Ranard?”

Anger flared in his eyes. “You can’t talk to me like that! Who do you think you are-”

“Unlike you, I know who…and what I am, Ranard. But then…you know how pathetic you are, don’t you, Ranard? Gilbert Porter has made sure to remind you of that every chance he gets!”

“You bitch-”

“You watch your mouth! Do not speak to my mother that way!” Duncan visibly shook, his hands tightening into fists.

“And what about you, boy? Talking to your father like you’re a man or something! I can see your mother slacked on her job of teaching you some respect!”

Duncan took a step towards his father, but Lennie stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“My boys are well mannered, and respectable…to those who are deserving of their respect.”

“I’ve had just about enou-”

“Good! Then you can go now.”

“I’ll leave when I’m-”

“Mom? Is everything okay?”

They all turned suddenly to see eleven-year-old RJ standing at the top of the stairs. His eyes were wide with fear as he clutched the top of the banister.

Glaring at Ranard one last time, Lennie rushed up the stairs to her youngest, most sensitive child. “Yes, sweetie, it is. We all had a small misunderstanding, but nothing for you to worry about, okay?”

RJ glanced down at his big brothers, noticing…and feeling the anger enveloping them. He then looked at Ranard, his expression blank. While Duncan and Myron had time with their father when they were babies and toddlers, RJ had almost none since the day he was born. His brothers felt a sense of betrayal and rejection from their father, but RJ felt nothing. To him, Ranard Porter was someone who upset his mother. And, now Ranard had upset his brothers. RJ wanted to go to his brothers, but Lennie was at his side wrapping her arm around his shoulder.

“C’mon, sweetie. Let’s get you back to bed. No more excitement tonight.”

RJ reluctantly allowed his mother to steer him back down the long hallway.

“You can go now.” Myron didn’t bother to hide his contempt for his father.

Ranard smirked. “You got balls, boy…I’ll give you that. But sounds like you need a lesson in respect, and I’m-”

“…not the person to give it to him. I’ll walk you to the door…dad.” Duncan grimaced on the last word as though it left a foul taste in his mouth.

Sizing his sixteen-year-old son up as Duncan got closer, Ranard realized for the first time that the boy had the advantage in height and weight. He quickly took a step back.

“What has that woman been telling you boys to make you hate me so much? I’m your father, dammit! Stop treating me like some thug off the street!”

“Then stop acting like one”, Duncan countered. “My birthday means nothing to you. None of us mean anything to you. You showed up to take from us. I don’t know why you thought mom would simply agree with you, but you’re wrong. This is our home. Mom takes care of us…and we’re not leaving.”

A bitter smiled tugged at the corner of Ranard’s mouth. “She takes care of you. Your sweet, sainted mother. Am I supposed to believed that she makes a few sandwiches a week, and she can afford all this?” He gestured around the foyer. “I’m not a fool. I know she’s got some man in the shadows taking care of her.”

“I wish she did!” Ranard and Duncan both turned to look at Myron.

“Then you wouldn’t be standing here. Then maybe mom wouldn’t have to work so hard. And maybe we’d have a real dad.”

“Like I said…Saint Lenore! I’m not buying it! I know she’s whoring around to keep my house from me!”

Ranard had barely finished his sentence before Myron lunged at him.

“Stop calling mom names! Stop it! Stop it! I hate you! I hate you’re our father! I hate you!”

While Myron’s blows found their mark, he was not yet as big as his brother. Ranard easily subdued him and fisted Myron’s shirt collar at the base of his throat. Slapping his son across the face, Ranard laughed.

“You got some fire, kid, but like I said,” Ranard slapped Myron across the face again, “you need to learn some resp-” He didn’t get to finish his sentence.

Grabbing his father’s hand, Duncan twisted it behind his back. “Let. Him. Go.”

“Boy, you’d better take-”

Duncan twisted Ranard’s arm higher. “I said…let him go.”

Defying his son, Ranard tightened his grip on Myron’s collar.

Duncan continued to twist his father’s arm until his hand nearly touched the back of his own head.

Crying out, Ranard shoved Myron backward away from him, causing Myron to fall.

Seeing his brother go down, Duncan snapped. Sweeping his foot under his father’s legs, Duncan took Ranard down, never releasing his hand. Hitting the floor with a thud, Ranard flailed around helplessly.

“Let go of me!”

Holding fast, Duncan slowly applied pressure to Ranard’s hand. Screaming in pain, Ranard attempted to dig his other hand into Duncan’s leg.

He only succeeded in pissing off his son more. Duncan leaned forward, wrapping his arm under Ranard’s neck, effecting a choke hold, and tightened his grip.

Wiping the blood from his mouth, Myron watched silently, not caring if the man on the floor lived or died.


Myron looked up to see his mother leaning over the upstairs railing.

Duncan, with his own eyes squeezed tightly closed, continued to apply pressure to Ranard’s neck.

Lennie pleaded with her eldest son as she raced down the stairs.

“Duncan! Please let go! Please, Duncan, stop!” Lennie fell to her knees as she reached her son. Grabbing his arms, Lennie attempted to break his hold, with no success. “Duncan, you have to stop! Don’t do this! Please, baby!”

It was as if she hadn’t spoken at all. Blind with rage, Duncan Porter tightened his hold.

Lennie, near hysteria, panicked even more when she saw Ranard’s eyelids flutter.

“Duncan! He is not worth it! Please stop! Let go! Don’t ruin your life over someone who didn’t care enough to be a part of it!” Lenore grabbed at her own chest, the thought of losing her son caused her physical pain.


The shrill cry echoed in the room and hallway as all eyes turned to see RJ standing at the bottom of the stairs, tears streaming down his face.

As though coming out of a trance, Duncan Porter looked down at his arm wrapped around his father’s neck…and released him immediately…slamming Ranard’s face against the floor. In one swift move, Duncan was on his feet moving towards his baby brother. Reaching RJ, Duncan wrapped him in his arms, hugging his close. He turned them both, moving towards Myron, and Lennie saw his face was wet from tears.

She glared at Ranard, who was drooling and sputtering as he crawled across the floor. “Are you happy now, Ranard?” She rose and went to her sons, seeing the dried blood on Myron’s face and shirt for the first time.

“I’m calling the police! They lock sixteen-year-olds up in this state like adults! You should never have attacked me like some common criminal! I’m going to make sure you go to prison for this!” His throat raw from the choke hold, Ranard’s threats didn’t hold the power he intended.Standing with her boys, Lenore Porter smirked. “Go ahead, Ranard…call the police.” She reached into her back pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”

Standing with her boys, Lenore Porter smirked. “Go ahead, Ranard…call the police.” She reached into her back pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”

Propping himself up against the wall, Ranard stared at her, confused. “What?”

“Would you like to use my phone?”

“Are you stupid? You want YOUR son to go to jail?”

“He’s not going anywhere. But, if he does, he’s not going alone. Perhaps they’ll let you two share a cell, and Duncan can practice a few more wrestling moves on you.”

Patting his pockets in search of his cell phone, Ranard tried to laugh but choked instead. “You dizzy bitch! I’m not going to jail.” He pointed towards Duncan. “He overpowered me and tried to kill me!”

Slipping two fingers under Myron’s chin, Lennie gently raised his head. “This is called child abuse, Ranard. After the police see his busted lip, swollen eye, and all the blood on his shirt…trust me…you’re going to jail.”

True fear showed in Ranard’s face. Pushing himself up finally into a standing position, he tried to challenge Lennie. “You won’t do that. You can’t do that.”

“You would be surprised at what I can do, Ranard.” She took two steps in his direction. “I’m raising my boys to be good men…despite who their father is. I run a successful business that I get offers for every week.” She gestured around the room. “I’ve hung on to, and taken care of this house without so much as a penny from you. I can do just about anything I set my mind to.”

She took two more steps towards him. “But you know what I couldn’t do, Ranard? I couldn’t help you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make you see your own self-worth. I loved you. I gave you a family. Yet, you still couldn’t see how much you mattered. Instead, you turned all the hatred you had for your father on to me…and then foolishly did anything you could to prove you were better than your father.” Lennie shook her head sadly. “But it didn’t work, Ranard. All you did was become Gilbert Porter.”

He flinched as though she had slapped him. “No! Don’t say that! I’m nothing like him!”

“You’re exactly like him. The only difference between the two of you is his wife died. You simply acted like yours did.”

“Lennie, I-”

“There’s nothing else to say here. If you’re going to call the police, do it now. If not, leave Ranard…and never come back.”

“You can’t-”

“Call the police…or leave and never come back. There are no other options. Nothing left to discuss.”



Looking completely lost, Ranard moved towards the front door. Rubbing at his throat, he stopped and looked back at his children standing together with their arms around each other. He looked at his wife and saw her face clouded with contempt…for him.

Turning and taking the last steps to the door, Ranard reached out for the doorknob…and froze.

This isn’t what he wanted. This isn’t what he needed. The last seven years had been one long nightmare. Constantly trying to stay ahead of the game at work. Hanging out with friends and coworkers he didn’t like…and who didn’t like him. Sleeping with any woman who said yes. And Gilbert Porter going out of his way to find his youngest son every few weeks to tell him how worthless he was. He’d tell him how a real man would step up to the plate and reclaim his family…be the husband and father they needed him to be. Not some loser who couldn’t even remember his sons’ birthdays.

Ranard Porter had wanted to fix his life, but he didn’t know how. He’d wanted to push his pride aside and admit his weaknesses. But he just couldn’t. Not to Lennie. She was so smart. Always confident and sure of herself. Even when he attempted to berate and degrade her, she rose above him and continued on. Not seeking or needing his approval. Not needing anyone’s approval…the way he did. Approval he never found.

He turned slightly to look at what he’d lost. Myron stood with his arm around RJ’s shoulder, and they watched their mother comfort Duncan. His teenage son who stood ready to defend his brother…from him. A man-child…already more of a man than Ranard was…or would ever be.

Ranard silently opened the door and slipped out into the loneliness of the night…where he belonged.

Watching as Duncan knelt to console a still fearful RJ, Lenore Porter heard the click of the door when it closed.

It was over.



Part V     Part VII


©Felicia Denise, 2016


“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle . . . This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Free, A Novella Part V”

Lennie's letter

“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part V

She would miss this room.

Where the pantry was Lenore Porter’s anchor as a businesswoman, the family room was her fortress for love. Regardless of what negativity was going on in her life, it ceased to exist when she entered this room. Here is where she was a steadfast mother to her boys, always putting them first. There was no question they couldn’t ask and no plans they couldn’t make. Discussions on friendship, school and grades were commonplace. Sleepovers, weekend getaways and family birthday parties had been planned here with much detail. As the Porter boys got older, their home was always the favorite hangout, and go-to spot after sporting events…owed in part to Lennie’s loving nature and talent in the kitchen.

After the revelations of Aunt Di’s letter, Lennie had felt uneasy around her parents, knowing how they felt about her marriage to Ranard. Avoiding the conversation for nearly a week and missing her parents terribly, Lennie invited them over for an early dinner. Afterward, while sitting in the family room, Burt and Linda Kelimore attempted to apologize to their daughter for not believing in her marriage.

Patting his stomach, Burt beamed. “That was an amazing dinner, Lenore, my compliments to the chef! Your dinner choices are always spot on! I’ve been begging your mother for lamb chops for over a month.”

Linda waved him off while speaking to her daughter. “Number one, he hasn’t mentioned lamb chops since Christmas; and number two, he’s never begged me for anything.”

“I most certainly have!”

Lennie didn’t miss the wicked smirk on her father’s face and threw her hands up. “TMI! TMI! Knock it off you two! I may be an adult, but no way am I old enough for this conversation with my parents!”

Burt snickered while leaning back on the sofa, wrapping an arm around his wife. “All right, all right. But we have no taboo or off-limits topics, Lenore. You know you can still come to us anytime you want or need to talk.”

“I know that, daddy. I’ve always known that.”

Linda Kelimore couldn’t contain her smile. “Good, dear. We never want you to feel there’s anything you cannot discuss with us.” Her smile faded. Linda glanced at her husband, then back at Lennie. “Honey, we’re sorry if we ever made you feel-”

Throwing up both her hands, Lennie left her seat and knelt in front of her parents. “Stop right there.” She enfolded one of her hands with Linda’s and rested the other on her father’s knee. “I have the most amazing parents on the planet.  You both have always been there for me and supported me even when you didn’t agree with me. I know I can be single-minded and stubborn, but that’s partly your fault. You raised me to be strong and focused…to make decisions following my first mind, and to be prepared for the consequences.”

Linda quickly nodded in agreement. “Yes, we did…and I blame your father.”

Burt Kelimore allowed his jaw to drop open, feigning offense. “You blame me? And just what are you blaming me for, MRS. Kelimore?”

Lennie ducked her head to hide her smile.

“You are the one who put all those grand ideas in her head about following her heart and her dreams. Never letting anyone deter her from her goals. The only limits she had were the ones she put on herself.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

Linda leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Not at all. You were absolutely right.”

“Did you just say I was right about something?”

Swatting him on the arm, Linda addressed her daughter. “I couldn’t be prouder of the woman you are, sweetheart. You are a fantastic mother, a shrewd business woman, and a loving daughter.”

“Just wish some of you had rubbed off on to those two sisters of yours,” Burt piped in.

“Burt! Hush! There’s nothing wrong with Elaine and Penny!”

He raised an eyebrow with a dubious look. Lennie couldn’t hold her laughter in any longer. Falling sideways from her knees to her butt, Lennie shook with laughter and said a silent prayer for the two people who could always bring a smile to her face. Exhaling heavily, Lennie tried to form a serious look.

“Mom, daddy…listen. I’m trying to say you don’t owe me an apology for anything. I should be apologizing to you.”

“Oh, Lenore! Whatever for?”

“For not having the same trust in you as you both have in me. I should have explained…certain things to you from the very beginning about Ranard and me.”


Exchanging worried glances, Burt and Linda sat forward on the sofa. Barely above a whisper, Linda was the first to speak.

“What things, sweetie?”

Crossing her legs, Lennie took a deep breath and told them…everything. About Ranard’s mother dying in childbirth, and Gilbert Porter having nothing but contempt for his youngest son ever since. About the constant bullying from his brothers; Ranard’s low self-esteem; and Lennie taking it upon herself to ‘heal’ Ranard and build him up. She stopped short of telling her parents about how Ranard was becoming his father and his constant verbal attacks upon her. Burt and Linda sat in stunned silence.

“Honey, why didn’t you tell us? I know we could have helped in some small way.” The pain in her mother’s voice caused Lennie’s chest to tighten.

“Ranard didn’t want you to know. He felt you would feel he wasn’t worthy of me. And, honestly Mom…I thought if I supported him mentally and emotionally, and loved him enough…things would be okay.” Seeing the hardness in Burt’s face, Lennie stood and retrieved two glasses of wine from the wet bar near the window. Handing the glasses to her parents, she folded her arms and ducked her head sheepishly. “Obviously, I was off base in my assumptions. Our marriage is far from perfect.” Exasperated, Lennie dragged her hands through her hair. “Who am I kidding? Our marriage is even far from good.”

Lennie poured a glass of wine for herself and sat next to Linda. “I know you and Auntie Di had concerns about me. She may be gone, but I know you both still have issues with,” Lennie waved her hand around the room. “All this. Ranard and I are talking more now, and I believe I’ve almost convinced him to attend marriage counseling with me.

Burt bristled, the hard set of his jaws nearly pulsing. “Almost convinced? What does that mean? Does the man want to save his marriage or not?”

“It’s not that easy, daddy.”

“Well, why-”

“Burt!” Linda interrupted him. “I’m pretty sure it took a lot for Lennie to share this with us. Let’s not interrogate our daughter, okay?”

“It’s okay, mom.” Pausing briefly, Lennie met her father’s questioning gaze. “When he was little, Ranard’s dad put him into some sort of tough love counseling. He had to admit his guilt for his mother’s death, and accept the consequences of his actions. He had to stand in corners for hours on end, sit in tubs of ice cold water, sleep on cold floors, and go without food for a day. Daddy, he was only seven years old. His memories of it still haunt him. That’s why he shuts down at the mere mention of counseling.”

“God in heaven! Who does that to anyone, let alone a child? That’s not therapy, it’s torture! How could Gilbert allow it?” Anger radiated off Burt Kelimore, while Linda tried to calm him down.

“I know, daddy. I’ve never understood my father-in-law. The best I can come up with is losing his wife warped his mind somehow. How else could he blame Ranard and expect him to admit guilt for something he had no control over? I would think if nothing else, he would have raised Ranard with even more love and affection in her memory.”

They all sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping their wine, and trying to understand. Burt finally stood and began to pace in front of his family.

“I cannot imagine what life was like for Ranard, Lenore, and I’ll never understand how some parents do not cherish and protect the bonds they have with their children.” Burt stopped his pacing in front of Lennie. “But like your mother said, we are here for you, and will try to do whatever you need us to do. You’ll never know how sorry I am for what Ranard’s been through, but you and our grandsons are our first concern. I know you will try to work things out with your husband because it’s the right things to do. But honey, please do not sacrifice yourself for a man you may or may not be able to reach.”

Lennie stood and pulled her father into a tight embrace. “I won’t, daddy, I promise.” Kissing him on the cheek, Lennie reached back and pulled her mom from the sofa and into their group hug. With an arm around each of her parents, Lennie looked from one to the other. “But you know I must try, right?”

Linda Kelimore palmed her daughter’s cheek. “You wouldn’t be our Lennie if you didn’t.” Fighting back tears, Lennie was about to respond, but Burt spoke up first.

“Didn’t you say something about peach cobbler and homemade vanilla bean ice cream?” Lennie laughed aloud as Linda shook her head, lips pursed.

“You’re awful!”

“I can’t help it if our daughter is a dynamo in the kitchen! I have to get it while the getting is good. Lord knows when we get home, you’ll be giving me rice cakes with Greek yogurt and something with quinoa in it. And what the hell is quinoa anyway?”

Still laughing, Lennie enjoyed their usual banter as she led her parents back to the kitchen.


Remembering that evening from so long ago, Lennie Porter smiled to herself as she crossed the room, her heels clicking against the hardwood floor. She had been blessed with amazing parents. They were always true to their word. Even though their conversation from that evening was never mentioned again, Burt and Linda had stood by her through it all without any disparaging remarks or judgment.

Lennie’s smile quickly turned into a full grin when she stopped in front of the window seat. Labeled the ‘Meeting Place’ by the Porter boys, the window seat was where all the serious family discussions had taken place. The large three-section Sunrise Bay window seat had more than enough room for four. However, most of the time only two family members would occupy the space – either Lennie and one of her sons, or two of the boys. Duncan and Myron had many long discussions stretched out on the ultra-thick cushions which covered the bench. The window overlooked a grassy, shaded area in the back yard which the Porter boys landscaped themselves.

Taking a seat on the bench, Lennie looked out at the last handiwork done by her boys before Duncan deployed for the second time nearly two years ago. Perennials in shades of pink and purple circled the Sugar Maple tree and bordered the brick retaining wall. The buds were just beginning to open and by the time the new homeowners arrived next week, the backyard would be filled with vibrant colors and scents.

A single tear made it down Lennie’s cheek before she swiped it away. After her breast cancer scare, Duncan, Myron and RJ became staunch supporters of breast cancer awareness. They all took part in a variety of sporting events supporting outreach and free mammograms for low-income women. After Lennie’s pathology report came back with no signs of cancer or precancerous cells, her three young men openly cried.


“Hey Porter Patrol, I’m going to be fine. Dr. Chaney said no cancer, remember?”

Sitting on the edge of her bed, Myron took her hand. “We’re just happy, mom. We have no clue what we would do without you.”

Reaching out with her other hand, Lennie froze and winced at the pain.

“Hey, hey! Take it easy, mom.” Duncan was on the other side of her bed in a heartbeat.

Leaning back against the pillows, Lennie exhaled roughly. “Who knew a few little stitches could hurt so much?”

“Dr. Chaney assured us the tenderness would be gone in a few days, and your biggest problem would be the itching as the wound site heals.”

“Guess that gives me something to look forward to.”

“Mom, c’mon.” Myron squeezed her hand. “Just take these few days to rest. Let us take care of you.”

“You’re right, sweetie. I’m just a bad patient. But Dr. Chaney did say I could go home tomorrow morning – guess I’m just anxious to get back into my routine.”

“Why? Does that change how serious this situation is?” All eyes turned to RJ standing at the foot of the bed. “You’re acting like you were here for the flu or something.” The pain in his eyes belied the harshness of his tone.

“RJ? Man, take it down a thousand. You okay? Talk to me.” Myron stood and stepped towards his younger brother, but RJ backed away.

“Breast cancer…kills. I don’t think we’re taking this seriously enough.”

“But honey, I’m fine. Our lives won’t change. We’ll continue on like always.”

“I know, mom, and you’ll never know how grateful I am for that.” The obvious turmoil on his face was confusing to his family. “Remember Peter Gleason from the baseball team? His grandma died from breast cancer when we were in sixth grade. When we were juniors, his mom had to have a breast removed. Now she’s undergoing treatment again for the other breast.” RJ scrubbed his hand over his face. “And his sister just found a lump in her breast.”

Duncan’s eye widened. “Cynthia? She’s my age. Are you kidding me?” He shared a quick glance with Myron, and they both nodded. “That’s why you’ve been so keyed up. Even after Dr. Chaney gave us the good news. Myron and I just chalked it up to more in-depth things you were learning in med school.”

“I guess I was so intent on hearing a different outcome-”

“You’re right.” Her boys watched her as Lennie slowly sat up and reached out to RJ. “Even with a positive outcome, this is still a serious situation. The doctor told me about lumps reappearing or new ones showing up in other spots. When I go in for my post-op check next week, I’ll be set up for regular labs and screenings.”

RJ visibly relaxed.

“I’m aware of the situation I’m in. I just didn’t want to burden my boys with it. You’re all at such great places in your young lives, and the sky’s the limit for your futures. I did not want negativity about my health scare impacting any of your decisions.”

Putting his hand on RJ’s shoulder, Duncan pulled Myron closer. “Mom, we’re at these great places in our lives because you busted your butt keeping negativity away from us. Nothing…and no one…came before us. We were still kids when we realized you’d do anything for us. Of course, you are a factor in every decision we make, and you always will be.”

Tears instantly sprang to her eyes as Lennie ignored Duncan’s obvious reference to their father.

“I am so proud of my boys.”

“We know, mom, and I’m sure big brother wasn’t trying to make you cry.” Myron leaned over and kissed her cheek. His brothers then did the same. “We should take off now and let you get some real rest.”

“Good idea!” Duncan herded his brothers towards the door. “We’ll be back bright and early in the morning to bust you out of here, Mom!” With that, her Porter Patrol disappeared down the hallway.

Lowering the head of her bed, Lennie stretched out and slowly adjusted the pillow under her side. She knew her oldest son was up to something. However, before she could give it more thought, Lennie drifted off into a dreamless sleep.


Lennie was halfway through her breakfast – after mastering using her left hand to eat – when she heard her boys making their way to her room. They sprang into the room, panting as though they’d just finished a race. The young men wore unusually bright smiles, and Lennie did not miss the small smudges of dirt on their clothing.

After quick kisses, they each grabbed a seat and pulled out sandwiches from Lennie’s favorite deli.

“How in the world did you get Mira to sell you those during breakfast hours?”

RJ grinned. “That was easy. We told her you were in the hospital and craving one of her special sandwiches!”

“Seriously? You use me as your excuse, and you’re just going to eat those in front of me?”

“Mom! We’re not heathens!” Duncan pulled another sandwich from his bag. “Reuben on rye/sourdough blend with extra sauerkraut.”

It was Lennie’s turn to grin. She slid the plate of powdered eggs aside and watched Duncan unwrap her sandwich.

The family chatted amiably as they ate. Nurses were in and out of the room, and by the time the sandwiches were gone, Lennie’s discharge was complete. While a nurse helped her dress in the private bathroom, her boys packed her bag, and Myron left to pull Lennie’s SUV – the only family vehicle big enough for all of them – around to the patient discharge doors.

Only a few minutes later, a young patient care aide wheeled Lennie through the double doors, stopping curbside. Duncan and RJ huddled around Lennie as she stood.

“Gentlemen, I got this, okay? I’ll probably need someone to close the door for me, but getting in is no problem.” Moving before she finished speaking, Lennie hopped up in the front seat. Her boys looked at each other frowning as the young aide backed the wheelchair away from the vehicle and returned inside…laughing.

Closing her door, RJ smirked. “You aren’t going to make this easy, are you mom?”

Lennie just grinned. Duncan and RJ got comfortable in the back seat, exchanging looks with Myron. He turned around to see his mother staring at him.

“What are you waiting for? Home, James!”

His brothers laughed in the back seat. Myron shook his head. “We are in so much trouble.”

Caught off guard by a wave of fatigue, Lennie relaxed back in her seat and closed her eyes, enjoying the laughter and banter of her three young men.


Waking to the sound of a car door closing, Lennie opened her eyes, trying to get her bearings. Duncan and Myron were standing near the front of the vehicle while RJ opened her door.

“We’re home? Oh, my god, I slept the whole way?”

RJ held on to her hand as though his mother was fragile. Lennie slipped down from the seat, suddenly aware of the brightness of the morning.

“Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”

“We were enjoying the peace and quiet, mom. Well, except for the times you snored.” Duncan quipped.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Funny Man.” Lennie glared at him as she rounded the vehicle, heading for the walkway to the front door.

“Mom? Before you head inside, we want to show you something.” Duncan was backing towards the open garage bay.

Looking at each of their faces, Lennie nodded and wordlessly followed her firstborn through the garage. Myron and RJ fell into step behind her. When they reached the corner door which led to the backyard, Duncan turned and reached out his hand.

“You have to close your eyes.”

Lennie smirked, but took her son’s hand, closed her eyes, and allowed him to guide her through the door. They had only taken a few steps when he stopped.

“Okay, mom. Open your eyes.”

Lennie opened her eyes, looking in Duncan’s direction, but quickly followed his gaze.

Gasping, Lennie clutched her chest with one hand as she walked deeper into the back yard. The area around the Sugar Maple tree which had been empty when she left for the hospital, now exploded with color. There were flowers everywhere. Exotic blossoms of pinks, lavenders, and purples, obviously strategically placed, stretched proudly towards the morning sun. Tears streamed down her face as Lennie turned to face her boys. Overcome with emotion and unable to speak, she looked at each of them with a questioning glance.

Silently, RJ approached his mom, turning her back towards the tree and leading her to the other side.

She saw the banner immediately.

“Lennie’s Love Garden.”

RJ caught his mother effortlessly as her knees weakened. Audible sobs racked Lennie’s body. She held on firmly to RJ with her left hand, her right hand still clutched to her chest.

Myron walked over and knelt by the banner. “We wanted to do something special for you, mom, to let you know how grateful we are to have you for our mom, and that all your tests came back negative.” He slowly waved his hand over the floral array. “This was all Duncan’s idea.”

Lennie turned to her oldest son, and he was already at her side, kissing her on the temple.

“These are perennials. With a little weeding and a bit of pruning, they’ll bloom indefinitely.” He pointed out different flowers. “The large bell-shaped flowers are Agapanthus. These are Agastaches, and these small bell-shaped blooms are Campanulas.”

Regaining her composure, Lennie found her voice. “This explains the dirt smudges on your clothes. You all worked through the night, didn’t you?” She quickly glanced at RJ and Myron – who winked – then returned her gaze to Duncan. “And when did you become such an authority on flowers? Are the Marines including that in training now?”

RJ and Myron laughed aloud, but Duncan ducked his head sheepishly.

“Only when you’re late to PT two mornings in a row and your C.O.’s wife wants a flower garden dug.”

“Oh, Duncan…no!” Laughter overtook Lennie almost as fast as her tears had.

He shrugged. “It wasn’t so bad. She was a nice lady and explained everything to me while we worked. When she talked about perennials, I immediately thought of you.”

“Of me?” Lennie frowned. “How so?”

“Perennials are sturdy and seem to thrive in adverse conditions. Some flower bulbs need to be dug up and stored during winter. But, perennials’ roots run deep. They grab hold of the earth and pull nutrients from it. They learn to get by with less, but they still sustain themselves. As the weather warms up, perennials ‘relax’ and let their buds grow until their blossoms burst forth in the warmth of the sun. Perennials are some of the most beautiful flowers you’ll ever see.”

Duncan swiped his mother’s cheek, wiping away her fresh tears. “You’re a perennial, mom. Strong, determined. Through the worst of times, you held fast. You never let anything or anyone blur your focus. Not even our father. You gave us a great home life; supported us in all our extra-curricular activities and ran a successful business. You were an amazing mom…still are. We love you, mom.”

Planting another kiss on her temple, Duncan stepped aside as Myron kissed Lennie on the cheek. “Yeah. We love you, mom.”

Still holding her left hand, RJ raised it to his lips. “You’re the best, mom. We love you.”

RJ felt her weight shift again, and quickly slipped his arm around her. Myron did the same from Lennie’s other side, careful not to hold her too tightly. Duncan came up behind them and grabbed hold of each of his brothers, and they stood there, silently holding each other up.


Still looking out the bay windows, Lenore Porter smiled at her memories. She was a blessed woman, and she knew it. The more love she gave her boys, the more they gave back. She had braced herself for all sorts of conflict and resentment during their teen years. All the things other parents told her to expect. None of it ever appeared. Not having Ranard take an interest in their lives, and then not having him around at all made them stronger and more supportive of each other.

Most of the time, her husband didn’t notice or chose to ignore the regular family activities that took place without him. With all the memories flooding Lennie’s mind during her last walk through her home, she couldn’t block the one she wanted to remember least. The one time Ranard decided to insert himself into his family’s life.

Lennie couldn’t block the one memory that changed their lives…and nearly cost a life.

Part IV     Part VI


©Felicia Denise, 2016

“Free, A Novella, Part IV”


“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part IV

A sudden car horn blast from down the block shook Lennie from her memories of long ago. Leaving the living room, she wandered into the kitchen where she had prepared thousands of meals. She ran her hand across the marble counter-top that had been part of her total home makeover after she filed her divorce papers.

After reeling from her aunt’s letter all those years ago, Lennie had chosen not to tell Ranard about her inheritance. Instead, she worked harder at getting close to Ranard again, and solidifying their marriage. Once they were on solid ground as a family, Lennie had planned to not only tell Ranard about their good fortune, but share it with him…allowing him to indulge in more of his dreams.

It wasn’t meant to be.

The rekindling of the Porter marriage only lasted long enough to produce Ranard Nelson Porter, Jr – RJ. Even before the birth of the youngest Porter son, his parents were again at odds. Ranard was more verbally abusive to his wife, and Lennie was running low on patience. Her husband had taken to showing up at home in time enough to shower, dress and leave again each morning. Tempted to change all the door locks, Lenore Porter decided to bide her time…waiting for the right time to end her marriage.

Instead, Lennie poured herself into her children, and her business. As the Porter boys grew, they began to understand their family situation was not normal. They saw their friends’ fathers bring them to school and pick them up; take them to the park; cheer them on at sporting events…and take them out to eat afterwards. Making a concerted effort not to paint Ranard in a negative light to his sons, Lennie always explained how busy their father was and how important his job was. It wasn’t that Lennie was trying to build Ranard up in their children’s eyes, but she didn’t want Duncan, Myron, and RJ to wear her bitterness and become cynical about love and family even before they became men. She knew in time, the boys would form their own opinions about their relationships with their father – or lack of one – just as Ranard had with Gilbert Porter.

As her boys grew, so did “Always…From Scratch”.  Lennie’s fresh sandwiches had been a hit from the start, but adding vegan and vegetarian items to the menu gave her an advantage over the other lunch caterers, and made her even more popular. By the time, RJ was ready for preschool, Lennie had stopped using her SUV for deliveries and had purchased a commercial van with a service window.

Walking into her former pantry, Lennie turned in a circle, smiling faintly. This was probably her favorite room. Her days had begun and ended in this room most days with Lennie pulling out necessary ingredients and slicing and dicing sandwich fillings even before she woke the boys for school. She glanced at the walk-in freezer in the corner that had replaced the usually overloaded upright fridge in year seven of her business and shook her head. It was a full year after the freezer had been installed before Ranard even noticed. He railed at her for overspending on such a luxury and accused her of taking out a business loan in his name. Lennie had calmly told him the freezer was paid for…in cash…the day before it was installed, and walked out of the room. Of course, he followed, insisting she was lying because there was no way she could sell enough sandwiches from her “little business” to pay for anything.

Lennie never responded to Ranard’s accusations and rants. In fact, she didn’t speak to him again until three days later – after she had filed for legal separation and had him served.

The “Ranard” who approached Lennie that same evening was the opposite of the man who’d verbally assaulted his wife over a new freezer.

“Lennie, I went overboard about the freezer and said a lot of things I shouldn’t have. But a legal separation, Lennie? Isn’t that overreacting a bit?”

Pinning him with the same perturbed look she gave her boys when they misbehaved, Lennie also used her ‘mom-voice’. “Ranard, do you seriously believe I want a legal separation because of a freezer?” She gave him no time to respond. “I want it because I’m tired of being a single parent; because I’m tired of waiting and hoping and praying that you’ll become an active participant in this family…and this marriage; because I’m tired of being your target every time something doesn’t go your way; but most of all, Ranard, I want it because there is no love between us, and I don’t believe there ever was. There will be a divorce too, Ranard. I’m just not ready to put the boys through that yet. However, this playing house needs to end.”

Dumbfounded, Ranard looked lost, searching for the right words to say to his wife. Lennie didn’t wait, turning quickly, and heading for the stairs. He suddenly sputtered, “I do love you, Lennie. It’s just all the pressure of dealing with my fa-…”

Lennie whirled around and cut him off as anger flared in her eyes. “No! No! You do not get to play the Gilbert Porter-card! This doesn’t have a damn thing to do with your father! This is about you, Ranard! You! And the decisions…the choices YOU make. The boys and I don’t exist for you unless you need to trot us out for one of your happily-married-family-man events. You spend money faster than you can make it. And the women! Do you really believe I don’t know about the women? ALL of them?”

Ranard threw up his hands to stop her. “I wouldn’t have needed to find love and comfort in other women if I had it at home.”

Shaking with rage, Lennie slowly walked towards her soon-to-be-ex-husband. “Because it’s all about you, isn’t it, Ranard? Poor Ranard Porter. His mother died bringing him into the world, and his father has hated him ever since. Poor Ranard Porter. Shunned by his father and berated by his older brothers. Poor Ranard grows up unloved, with low self-esteem.” She stopped mere inches away from him. “Is that the story you told them all, Ranard? Is that how you pulled them in and played on their sympathies? Or were they just basic immoral cows who thought they were putting one over on me…the poor, stupid wife?”

“You’re out of control, Lennie! Stop talking like that!” He took a step back.

Lennie moved with him, continuing her tirade. “No, Ranard. For the first time in ten years, I’m in total control, and this”, she motioned between them, “this is over. Good luck explaining it to Daddy!” Turning abruptly, Lennie strode from the room, Ranard calling out behind her.

“I’ll never give you a legal separation or divorce, Lennie. I’ll never sign these papers! Never!”

Without slowing down or turning around, she responded, “Yes, you will. Eventually…you will.”

Ranard stood firm…for less than four months. His attorney’s fees were growing, and he couldn’t live the lifestyle he wanted and fight Lennie. Ranard had attempted to keep the house for himself, and Lennie was more than ready for that battle.

“How soon do you think you and the boys will be moving, Lenore?” Not even looking in his direction, Lennie responded almost flippantly.

“I’m not moving my boys, Ranard.” His smirk was nearly hostile.

“Seriously, Lenore? You actually believe I’ll allow you to keep my dream home? You think I’ll just scurry away with my tail between my legs because it’s what you want? You’re nuts.” He strode to the bar with far too much swagger in his steps. After pouring himself a double shot of Scotch, Ranard turned to find his wife facing him, arms folded across her chest. “Oh, please don’t start with the tears, Lenore. They won’t work on me.” Lennie slowly approached her husband, her steps punctuating each word.

“What kind of man values his dream home over his children? What kind of man values his dream home over the woman who tried to loved him and spent their entire life together trying to help him be successful?” She stopped in front of Ranard. “What kind of man presents himself as a dedicated family man to the world, all the while living a lie?” Lennie uncrossed her arms, her eyes narrowing. “That man…isn’t a man at all, Ranard. He’s a spoiled little boy who’s used to getting his way. “

Lennie must have hit a nerve with her ‘spoiled little boy’ comment, because Ranard was packed and moved the next day. Personally, Lennie always felt Ranard was secretly glad to be from under their huge mortgage payment. While she had made full financial disclosure to her attorney, he informed her Ranard’s legal team never asked for it. He said it rarely happened, but was not unheard of if the complaining party requested no support of any kind.

Her parents didn’t understand at first why Lennie had kept the house she never liked or wanted. They saw her separation as a way of unburdening herself of the past, and making a fresh start for her boys. They also hoped she would quickly make the separation permanent. But Lennie couldn’t be dissuaded. Duncan, Myron, and RJ had gone from babies to men in this house, and there was no way Lennie could just walk away from those memories. Her role as a wife may not have lasted, but Lenore Porter had excelled in the role of mother. She stayed in the house Burt Kelimore usually referred to as ‘the tomb’, and redecorated from top to bottom. Ranard’s showplace was gone, and the house had finally become a home.

Leaving the pantry, Lennie walked through the formal dining room that had been used more for homework and science experiments that it was meals. She and the boys had preferred eating together at the breakfast nook in the kitchen, or the dining area in the family room. This dining room…it was pure Ranard Porter. Haughty and cold.

Crossing the hallway, Lennie stood at the double entrance doors of the family room, and it had been a family room in the truest sense. Countless blanket forts were built and sleepovers shared. Her boys had gone from watching “Sesame Street” to “The Wire” in this room. Kisses had been stolen from girls who supposedly had come over to ‘study’ with one of the boys.

Lennie closed her eyes as if hearing the voices of a thousand conversations over the years. But one conversation stood out, louder and angrier than all the rest. Remembering the pain the voice also held, Lennie felt the sting of tears.

It had been the one conversation she knew could happen, but had hoped never would.


Part III       Part V

©Felicia Denise, 2016

“Free, A Novella, Part III”


“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part III

Lennie’s vision began to blur, but it wasn’t until a lone tear fell onto the letter that she realized she was crying. Her mind raced as she tried to get a handle on her emotions before continuing. Evidently, her aunt had written this letter the day after Lennie and the boys had ended their vacation and returned home. Obviously, Auntie had hidden her feelings quite well as Lennie never suspected a thing.

And the two sisters had talked about this. Lennie’s jaws tightened as she pictured her mother and aunt sitting around discussing her life! What gave them the right? She knew both women loved her unconditionally, but that didn’t mean they knew what was best for her. Second guessing her decisions? As though she were an errant child? Lennie fumed at the disrespect! They didn’t understand. No one did. Ranard was far from perfect, but the sacrifices she made were to build him up; to strengthen his confidence; make him worthy in his father’s eyes.

Falling back against the sofa, Lennie’s body sagged under the weight of reality. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she realized all her love, support, and efforts to help Ranard believe in himself and become a success had been an exercise in futility. While Ranard was moving up in the chemical research and development world, his self-esteem was still as low as the day they met in college. He had just grown better at masking it from everyone, except Lennie. The loving gratitude Ranard used to show Lennie, and the special times they spent together were also gone. Replaced by hurtful words, biting remarks and constant judgement whenever they were together. Ranard had become Gilbert Porter – his father – and Lennie had become his favorite target.

Laying the letter aside, Lennie stood and walked to the window. Closing her eyes, Lennie leaned her forehead against the glass. She’d had such hopes and dreams for their future together. When had it all gone so wrong? They had been so happy after they were married. Duncan had been a total surprise with Lennie finding out she was pregnant a few short weeks after their June wedding. But Ranard had been thrilled, and anxious to have his own family. He yearned to give his children the love and attention his father never gave him. However, the birth of Myron two short years later saw a different Ranard Porter. Still friendly and affable with co-workers and friends, at home, Ranard was cynical and cruel. Lennie never knew when he would verbally lash out, and was grateful his time away from home seemed to increase. Her heart broke for her boys. Duncan had only had his father’s attention until he began to walk, and Ranard had only held infant Myron a scant few times.

Looking back at the letter on the sofa, Lennie wiped the tears from her face. The people who knew her best…and loved her most, were right. They had long ago seen the things she’d refuse to admit to herself. Marrying Ranard had been a mistake. She had mistaken his devotion and gratitude for her tutoring and moral support…for love, and maybe while it wasn’t a smoldering, all-consuming love, Lennie felt they were good together. Love would come and grow with time. When Ranard, nervous but excited, knelt on one knee before Lennie in their favorite restaurant and proposed, she was over the moon. The next day, Lennie purchased a leather-bound journal and began plotting their future together.

Her family was not as excited as she had expected, but she assumed it was because they felt as though they were losing her even more than when she went off to college. Lennie knew they would share her happiness once they started planning her wedding. Her Mom and aunt would go over-board with decorations, and her dad would wear the world’s biggest grin as he walked her down the aisle.

She had only gotten a shadow of that “happy day.” And now, she knew why. Now it made sense why during the biggest event of her life, her family wore smiles that didn’t reach to their eyes.

Lennie had no idea what more her aunt could have written that would rattle her any more than she was, but steeling herself, she quickly walked to the sofa and retrieved the letter. Pacing slowly around the room…she read.


It is truly difficult to accept the choices of someone you love, Lennie, when you feel you know them so very well…and they make decisions that are so out of character.

I was speechless when I first saw your new home. It was so elegant and grand…and so not you. The house was far too pretentious for you. When I saw your face as Ranard walked us from room to room, boasting over the cost of the house, I knew then whose house it truly was. It also confirmed my suspicions that Ranard Porter was a foolish, impractical man, more interested in boasting and showing off than labors of love. You appeared to wince, Lennie, each time he mentioned the price of the house. He was living above his means…and yours. Two weeks later, your mother called to tell me about Ranard buying two new cars and to share her concerns for you and the boys. While he made good money, your husband was spending it faster than he was earning it. My sister and I were almost certain you were not consulted on any of his purchases. But, again Lennie, you allowed it.  You wouldn’t speak up on your own behalf, and you didn’t speak up for your children.

Lennie abruptly stopped pacing and reading. Realizing her aunt AND her parents knew her shame – jeopardizing the boys’ future by not trying to reign in Ranard’s endless spending – caused Lennie’s chest to tighten. Ranard was a foolish man, and he was getting worse, not better. But she was determined to make her marriage work. She had to.

She leaned against the desk to finish the letter.

Like your parents, Lennie, I have only wanted the best for you. When you were younger and I could assist Linda and Burt, I did. When you married Ranard, I wanted to gift you the down payment for your first home, but Burt asked me to wait. When Duncan was born, I at least wanted to start a college fund for him, but providence stopped me. After the house and the cars, and then you launching your lunchtime catering business, my mind was made up.

While you were here a few months ago with the boys…and distracted with their baths…I asked you to sign some documents, medical advanced directives. You thought you were signing on only as a backup for your mom. Forgive me, my sweet girl, but that was not the truth. The documents you signed were to add you as co-owner of all my bank accounts and property.  When my attorney, Bernard, visits you (if he hasn’t already), he will have an itemized list and inform you of the total value. He’ll arrange for you to come to his office to receive all of the information and documentation regarding my estate, and that’s when you will see the documents you signed, Lennie.

Please do not be angry with me for my deception, nor your parents. They were not aware at the time of my plans and played no part in them. I wanted to make this transition as easy as possible for you, Lennie, while insuring some stability for your children’s future.

Everything is yours, Lennie…no conditions or ultimatums. I do, however, have one request. Please consider not telling Ranard about your inheritance. I know it’s wrong of me, but this I do not apologize for. Yes, he has shown that he’s capable of making a good living, but when it comes to being a true provider, his actions prove him lacking. Like you, I want Duncan and Myron to have a bright future, money for college, and stable roots. I feel if Ranard has access to your assets, he’ll selfishly blow right through them without thought to you and the boys. I don’t want you living on “what could have been”, not when there is something I could do to avoid that.

Of course, the decision is solely yours, Lennie Penny. Your parents will not interfere. I do apologize for being too much of a coward to discuss this with you face-to-face, but the hurt and mistrust I knew I’d see in your eyes would break me.

Continue to raise those boys as you are – with excitement and enthusiasm. Show them the joys of life, and find your joy, Lennie. Re-capture YOU.

Thank you for so many years of love, fun, and friendship, my sweet girl. Thank you for making me feel needed, and thank you for giving me a reason to live life when I felt I had no reason to go on.

Be happy, Lennie. BE HAPPY.

I love you,

Auntie Di


Her silent tears had turned to sobs before Lennie realized the sounds she heard were coming from her. A floodgate of emotions opened, and the weight was simply too much for Lennie to bear. The letter slipped from her hands as she slid to the floor and continued to cry.

Part II       Part IV

©Felicia Denise, 2016

“Free, A Novella, Part II”


“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise

Part II

Lennie audibly exhaled as the tension left her body and her shoulders sagged. “You two! You had me so worried there for a second. Look, I had a very special relationship with Auntie Di, and I know I was important to her, but I have no problems sharing any of what she left me with my fam-…” Linda cut her off in mid-sentence.

“Honey, you don’t understand. We’re not trying to take anything away from you. It’s quite the opposite, actually.” Frowning, Lennie threw her hands up.

“And we’re back to talking in code!” Her dad held up his hand to silence them both.

“Lenore, your mom and I have some real concerns that need to be addressed.” Briefly glancing at his wife, he reached into his back pocket. “And we’re not the only ones.” He held out an envelope to her. “Your aunt wrote this about three months ago.”

Stunned, Lennie stared at the cream colored envelope in her father’s hand, but she made no move to take it from him. Standing, Burt reached down and placed the letter in Lennie’s hand. “Your mom and I will give you some privacy. When you’re ready, come join us in the kitchen.” He leaned down again, this time, kissing her on the forehead. As he stepped back, Linda rushed forward, cradling her daughter’s face in her hands.

“I love you so much, Lennie. You were always my practical child. You wouldn’t do anything unless it made sense or had a purpose. I think that’s why Diane took to you so quickly. She said you had entirely too much wisdom for a child, and had an old soul.” A single tear slid down Linda’s cheek as the faint trace of a smile formed on her lips. “I used to get mad at Diane, and accuse her of trying to take you from me.” Lennie’s eyes widened.

“Mama, you-“

“Sshh!” Linda cut her off. “I know I was being foolish. We were all so young back then. All newly married, and some of us were already parents. We didn’t know the first thing about anything…just pretending to be adults. Di was a great auntie. Babysitting you girls so Burt and I could enjoy a quiet evening at home or see a movie.”

Lennie listened intently as she wondered about all the great stories her family had shared, and realized this was the first time she had heard this particular story. Linda’s smile faded. “Then she got “the visit” from the Marine representatives. Conrad had been killed during the Battle of Khe Sanh. Di was devastated. Something in her broke that day that couldn’t be fixed. Her husband gone. No children. She mourned and went on, but sometimes, it seemed as though she was just going through the motions. Not really living, just existing.”

Her smile returned as she chuckled softly. “But then you started walking, talking and getting into everything. We were all amazed at how quickly you learned and remembered things. Diane marveled over you and thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. When I got sick out of the blue, she gladly stepped in to care for you, and even took time off from her job. After nearly a week of me laying around, your father dragged me to the doctor, and that’s how and when we found out I was pregnant with Elaine. It was a hard pregnancy. The morning sickness and fatigue lasted right up until Elaine was born. That should have been my clue that she was going to be a difficult child.” Mother and daughter shared a grin. “But that big sister mine, she stepped in like a trooper.”

“More like a tornado”, Burt quipped. Lennie giggled out loud for the first time since Diane’s attorney left.

“Burton Kelimore! You know she meant well, and she was a tremendous help to us,” Linda chided, then shushed her husband and returned her gaze to her daughter. “He’s still ticked because the man could not boil water when we got married, but by the time Elaine was born, he could prepare a simple but full meal. Di had insisted he learn, and she was the one who taught him.”

“She could have had an excellent career as a military interrogator…or perhaps a prison guard.” She glared at Burt, and couldn’t keep the smile from forming when he winked at her and grinned. “You know your sister was brutal, and an exacting taskmaster. C’mon, admit it.”

“I’ll do no such thing, Mr. Kelimore. She simply liked things done a certain way.”

“Yeah…hers!” Linda perched balled fists on her hips and truly glared at him this time. Burt knew when to give up. He began backing towards the office door.

“Aren’t I supposed to be making coffee? Yes, I am! If anyone needs me…”, and with another wink, he was gone. Lennie felt better seeing her parents do their usual banter. Her mom shook her head and smiled, still staring at the empty doorway.

“That man vexes me so.” Hearing the love in her mother’s voice for her father caused Lennie’s chest to tighten just a little. Did she sound like that when she spoke of Ranard? She knew she did not. “What I was trying to tell you is that it was during my second pregnancy that you began spending more time with your aunt. She bought you all new clothes and toys. Even combed your hair differently. She doted on you and treated you like a little china doll. Didn’t take much for my hormonal self to verbally attack her and accuse her of trying to steal my baby.” Linda smiled sadly at the memory. “Your father finally calmed me down enough to make me think clearly. Diane had already made up her mind that no one would ever replace Conrad, so she took all the love she had for him, and any children they might have had and poured it into you.”

She leaned down and hugged Lennie tightly, then mimicked Burt’s earlier gesture, kissing her forehead. “She loved you as much as your father and I do, Lenore, maybe more in some ways. As you read her words, please try not to judge her too harshly.” With that, Linda left the office to join her husband in the kitchen.

Lennie stared at the envelope, recognizing her aunt’s bold, but elegant handwriting. A sense of dread washed over her. Her parents seemed to feel this letter would upset her, and whatever it contained, they agreed with it. Giving herself a mental shake, and silently reprimanding herself for fearing the unknown, Lennie opened the envelope, removed the thick stack of stationary, and began to read.

September 17, 1993
My Dearest Lennie Penny,

Since you are reading this, I am gone. I apologize, sweet girl, for not telling you about my illness, but I felt you had enough on your plate caring for your young family and running your business. I knew you’d want to be here with me, and that just wouldn’t do.

You and the boys left here yesterday, after what was probably the best time in my life since Conrad was killed. The days at the beach, the park…the cookouts in the backyard – Lennie, I felt as though I had a real life, a full life. Linda always gave me a bad time about trying to steal her baby, and I know I was pushy at times, but I learned my boundaries and stayed within them. But these last two weeks? I selfishly allowed myself to believe you were MY daughter, and Duncan and Myron were my grandchildren. I’ve missed our times together since you married and started a new life as a wife and a mother. Thank you for agreeing to spend your vacation with me. You will never know what it meant to have you here with me. I will treasure these memories until I take my last breath.

I am so proud of the beautiful young woman you’ve grown into. I watched you with the boys, and all I could do was smile. They have the same sense of wonder and natural curiosity you had at that age, and you feed it beautifully. Duncan asked you a million questions at the petting zoo in the park, and you patiently answered each one. He watched you as you spoke, with this serious look on his face as if he was committing each and every word to memory. You are a fantastic mother, and those boys are as blessed to have you as you are them.

I just wish they had a different father. There, I said it. Your choices or decisions have never been questioned before, not by me nor your parents. You were always so pragmatic. Even if I didn’t agree, you were so confident and grounded in your decisions, I still knew you’d succeed.

But then, Ranard entered your life…and you seem to flounder for the first time in your life. My heart broke when you announced your engagement, but I still held out hope you would come to your senses and not go through with the wedding. Since the day you walked down the aisle, I’ve wondered, “Why?” I only wish I had been brave enough to ask you to your face. I’ve always wanted to know why you walked away from a promising career with endless potential to marry a man who seems to treat you like a minor accessory. You were valedictorian in a class of three thousand, Lennie! You! The world was yours for the taking! But you left it all behind for a man who called you stupid in front of your family for spilling ketchup on his shirt! The only thing that saved Ranard from getting punched in the face that day was your mother pushing Burt and me through the patio doors! We were so angry at his callous self-righteousness, but we were angry with you too, Lennie. You took his verbal abuse! You didn’t stand up for yourself. You were not the same Lennie who punched TWO older boys for teasing and touching Elaine in high school. Or the Lennie who was flat on her back with the flu for nearly a week during finals week your sophomore year of college, but walked into your computer science class with your head held high determined to take the final exam, and walked out as the only student who aced it. I didn’t see the Lenore Helena Kelimore who had mastered all ninety-six songs in the Danvers Music Academy catalog before she entered high school. In every area of your life, you had always stood out. You never tried to be the center of attention or sought the limelight, but it found you! It always found you! Your inner light shone brightly, and I believe that’s what drew people to you. You were never a vain or prideful child, but your dignity and grace were evident long before you reached your adult years. Why are you allowing this man to dim your light?

And you are allowing it, Lennie. I don’t, for one minute, believe that Ranard controls or dominates you in any way. He’s more like an unruly child acting out, and you’re the tolerant, long-suffering parent.

But that’s not what marriage is about, Lennie.

I’ve watched you both when you weren’t looking. I’ve never seen him hold your hand, or kiss or caress your cheek. I’ve never heard him compliment you, or say anything positive about you. But I held out hope. You have a reason for everything you do, so I knew there was a reason you married that man. But was it love, Lennie? As your third anniversary fast approaches, you’ve already been married longer than Conrad and me. But we had so much joy and laughter, Lennie. We were disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant before he shipped, but that did dampen our happiness one bit.

Where is your joy, Lennie? What makes you happy? And it has to be more than your children, because they will grow up and leave. I speak from experience even though I wasn’t blessed to be a mother. I shared my sister’s heartache and turmoil when you left.
I also finally shared my concerns about you with her after our vacation. I was both relieved and saddened to find out she understood, and felt the same way. Relieved because I now had someone to talk to about it – I couldn’t talk to you, Lennie. I knew you’d be angry and I didn’t want to lose you – and I was also sad because if Linda saw the problems I saw, they were real and not the overactive imagination of a nosy old woman.

I’ve always known you would be my heir. I almost told you on a couple of occasions, but I knew you’d insist that I sell everything and donate the money to some organization saving whales, or hamsters, or gophers…or whatever is all the rage at the moment. But no, I want you have what was mine. It gives me peace to know I can do this one last thing for you and the children.

However, I am not done. You’re probably fit to be tied by now. Clutching this letter with both hands, beads of perspiration forming on your forehead as you think about digging up my body to tell me about my bossy self. My sweet Lennie Penny. I hope you are sitting down, because if you are angry with me now, by the time you finish this letter, you WILL dig up my body!

Part I        Part III

©Felicia Denise, 2016

“Free, A Novella”

(I started this allegedly short story back in mid-Spring on my blog site, Nesie’s Place.  As I approached what I believed to be the third and final installment, story characters staged a mutiny! New characters were introduced and current leads had more to say. My husband had just been diagnosed with End Stage Kidney Disease, and I was in the middle of edits for my first novel, so I politely sent Lennie and company to the corner to sit quietly…and wait.

Life has quieted down…a bit…and I’ve gotten in front of “Free” enough to begin posting again with weekly updates. It will be a side companion to my NaNoWriMo project. I look forward to your comments.)


“Free, A Novella”

by Felicia Denise

Part 1

Lennie sat her suitcase near the front door. She knew she should just leave without looking back, but she could not resist one more walk through of the house that had been her home for the last twenty-four years.

She couldn’t help but smile when her gaze fell upon the large oak bannister…with the nick in one of the railings. After watching the Winter Olympics, Myron and RJ decided if the Jamaicans could bobsled, so could they. Fashioning their version of a bobsled from the box her computer paper was delivered in, her two youngest sons even donned their winter hats and mittens. For “realism” Myron proclaimed.

What would have been a few minutes of fun and a great memory, took a turn for the worst, when older brother Duncan decided just pulling each other around the patio wasn’t good enough. They needed an incline.

Lennie heard Randy’s wails and rushed into the foyer to find them all at the foot of the staircase –  Myron rubbing his head, Randy covered in blood, and Duncan looking extremely guilty.

Four hours later, after a mind-numbing visit to the ER, Lennie returned home with her troop of wannabe bobsledders. Myron had a simple bump on the head, and no concussion. RJ was the puzzle. They could not figure out how he knocked TWO of his teeth out – and a canine and a molar at that, and NOT his front teeth. Lennie was fully prepared to be arrested for child abuse, when the kindly doctor just laughed, commented on the crazy things kids do and told RJ he hoped he found the missing teeth so he didn’t miss out on a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Thank God they were his baby teeth.

Lennie chuckled softly as she ran her hand over the two small indentations where she’d found RJ’s teeth later that night, sticking out of the wood like something straight out of a horror movie.

Making her way across the foyer, Lennie walked down the three steps into the sunken living room. Despite all the wonderful memories she had of Christmas mornings, birthday parties and family get-togethers, Lennie still hated this room. If she were being honest, she had to admit she never really liked the house. He wanted THIS house. He loved the idea of the grand staircase, the cathedral ceilings and the sunken living room. Lennie wanted the ranch style home a few miles away with the pool and a second kitchen on the enclosed patio. But this was his status symbol to prove to himself…and his father…that he had ‘made it’ after only two years in research and development at the chemical company. How ironic that he had spent even less time in the home than RJ who hadn’t been born yet when they bought the house.

Walking over to the patio windows, Lennie looked out over the large backyard as if she could still see her children playing with their cousins on a summer afternoon. Lennie smirked as she watched the water shimmer across the pool. “You didn’t win that one, did you, Ranard?” He had vetoed the idea of putting in a pool, saying they were too deep in debt. Yes, they were. After buying HIS house. But six years later, business was booming for Lennie’s catering business, “Always…From Scratch!” What started as a lunchtime specialty sandwich business had grown into a full service catering business. Her background in nutrition and her killer cooking skills made her a stand out among the city’s league of caterers, and she soon became a favorite of millennials in search of healthier, but trendy menus.

At the end of the fifth year, after paying her quarterly taxes, updating her service supplies, and even giving a holiday bonus to the small team of soccer moms who doubled as prep and wait staff, Lennie had more than fifty percent of the cost of a pool. She knew financing wouldn’t be a problem. But she thought maybe it was time to dip into her nest egg.

Her Aunt Diane, her mom’s oldest sister, had passed away shortly after Lennie and Ranard’s third wedding anniversary, leaving everything she had to Lennie. Diane’s husband had been killed in Vietnam, they had no children, and she never remarried. Diane and Lennie had been close all of Lennie’s life. It was Diane who taught Lennie to play the piano. And Diane taught her the secret to a killer pound cake. Even though Lennie was shocked to find out she was Diane’s sole heir, it made sense to the rest of the family. Lennie was always Diane’s first concern.

‘Everything’ turned out to be Diane’s home, two cars, two rental properties, three hundred acres of land in San Luis Obispo, California, and an extremely generous amount of cash. After having Lennie sign all the necessary documents and arranging for her to meet him first thing the next morning to receive her new banking and tax information, Diane’s attorney left. Linda Kelimore, Lennie’s mother, sat silently fidgeting with her hemline until her husband returned from seeing the attorney out.

Burt Kelimore stood in the doorway of his home office and exchanged an uneasy glance with his wife before sighing heavily and taking a seat next to her. Lennie watched her parents, confused. “Mom? Daddy? What’s wrong? Did I miss something?” Linda grabbed her husband’s hand and squeezed as her eyes filled with tears. Lennie sat forward on the sofa and leaned towards her parents. “You’re really starting to scare me, Please, tell me what has you so upset.” Burt let go of his wife’s hand and reached for Lennie’s.

“Lenore, you know how very much we love you, and the last thing we want to do is upset you or try to tell you what to do.”

“Just say it, Daddy, please! I’m starting to freak out here!”

“Babygirl, it’s about the inheritance you just received.”


Part II

©Felicia Denise, 2016